The full analysis of the shifting gallery landscape from city-center ‘retail’ locations to destination exhibitions is available to AMMpro subscribers. The first month of AMMpro subscriptions are free. You can cancel at any time.
The New York Times takes a shot at a trend piece on the gallery landscape in New York after a series of recent closings. After some stabs at trying to compare the art economy to “the solidifying of a class society,” the Times draws sweeping conclusions:
rather than visiting individual galleries — and perhaps discovering new talent — collectors are focusing on market-tested trophy works carried by major dealers; are sometimes buying from Instagram or other online images without seeing the work in person; and are less willing to gamble on the emerging artists represented by small and midsize galleries.
Deeper in the story, we actually hear from the gallerists who are shuttering their retail locations, it turns out there is something else going on. Instagram is reducing foot traffic (there’s no evidence that it has become an alternative distribution channel.) But the shift in the way artists are represented by primary gallerists is being driven by a number of different trends, including the greater reach of social media and art fairs but also the costs of maintaining street-level spaces in city centers for an exhibition program that may not produce immediate revenue nor results.
The bias toward bigger galleries—the Times quotes Clare McAndrew’s stats that show the biggest growth in galleries doing $1-10m and over $50m in annual turnover—may be more a product of the turn toward viewing art as an asset. Here’s the founder of recently-closed CRG:
“There’s been a shift: the acceptance of art as liquid assets,” said Glenn McMillan, who founded the gallery with Carla Chammas and Richard Desroche. “It’s moved toward a much more consolidated equity investment vehicle, it has truly become an international business, it’s bringing to the art market an incredible volume of money, and it puts pressure on mom-and-pop operations like ours.”
Later McMillan admits the new art market isn’t appealing to him:
“it’s not the world we signed up for.”
How new artists emerge and build a path toward sustainable careers remains a conundrum that is partly impacted by the rapidly changing nature of retail and what consumers expect from a retail experience. Just as strolling malls is decreasing as a pastime, the idea of gallery-hopping on a Saturday afternoon seems to be losing its appeal too.
That doesn’t have to mean the art market is being negatively impacted. Primary galleries seem to be trying to combine two important trends. With the value and importance of attending art fairs that take place around the world, a number of primary gallerists are opening exhibition spaces in locations that are destinations.
Where the ritual for participating the art market in the past was the weekly gallery expedition tromping around first Soho in Manhattan, then Chelsea, the new art world involves going to bucolic towns outside New York and London or making destination trips to Naples where Thomas Dane is opening a gallery, as the FT tells us:
“Everything we try to do is artist-led, and artists absolutely love Naples. I wanted to offer them a different and interesting space, rather than just expanding. And I feel it will give them and myself more freedom to do what we want, rather than, say, in New York.”
Dealers ranging from Hauser + Wirth to Jack Shainman seem to be thriving with this model. But others are working on developing flexible, shared exhibition spaces in London (and New York.)
Back in London, another way of breaking the mould is in preparation in South Kensington, with the Cromwell Place project. This art hub, opening in 2019, will offer galleries the use of offices and 16 exhibition spaces, plus storage and a private club. It addresses the problem many smaller and mid-sized galleries are facing, in London and elsewhere — rising rents and lower footfall, as collectors increasingly attend art fairs.
Cromwell Place, he says, is a new way for galleries to operate: “They are invited to join as members and only pay for what they need. Some can take an office and use it as a permanent base with a full programme of shows, or it can be used by overseas galleries to gradually build up their presence in London.”
The New York version of this seems to involve a gallerist transforming his family’s Manhattan townhouse into a kind of gallery co-working space. Clever ideas don’t always develop into realistic business models but the idea of shared spaces and apportioned costs makes sense to how artists need to be presented to develop their reputations and base of support.
Solving the problem of providing galleries with flexible exhibition programs that can be presented where meaningful around the world without the need to build an expensive multi-space operation (and the sales machine necessary to support it) is clearly the challenge for the art market as it expands geographically.
In that challenge, some are seeing a real opportunity by eschewing the art version of building a business led by its global supply chain and focusing on creating the most effective outlet for ‘organic’ production.
Stefania Bortolami, who moved her gallery to TriBeCa from Chelsea in May, wanted to reinvent it out of the shadow of the larger players. “Gagosian is Nestlé and I’m the organic farm-to-table grocer, and I’m fine with that,” she said.
Art Gallery Closures Grow for Small and Midsize Dealers (The New York Times)
Breaking the mould: how art galleries are exploring new models (Financial Times)